I was born three years after the Second World War ended and have lived my whole life here in Cincinnati, Ohio. My maternal grandmother first moved to this city from the south when she was still a teenager. After her husband, my grandfather, left her a few years into their young marriage, she decided to raise their two daughters, my mother and aunt, on her own. Poorly educated and with a meager income, the small, five-feet-tall woman somehow made it. My grandmother on my father’s side was a strong woman, too. Being a widow at a young stage, she managed to bring up her two children all by herself.
I place a lot of respect on the generations that came before me. They took life seriously and worked themselves to the bone to provide. They were the ones who fought the real battles, and they did it all with a great sense of duty and honor. Stories of my ancestors are what inspired me to become independent at a young age and strive to make a better living for myself.
My parents grew up in the Great Depression. My dad fought in the Second World War flying B-17 bombers. After the war, he worked at a factory of General Motors, while my mom took care of me and my younger brother. My earliest memory goes back to the time when I was about four or five years old. My dad was at the time working the second shift. We had only one car, so every night we would all stay up till eleven o’clock and then go together to pick him up from work. One year, there was a massive blizzard. Our car went off the road, and we had to ride through the snow to get back to our house.
It was in the early 50’s. Life was definitely much harder than it is now. We didn’t have much growing up. We had a small black-and-white TV, and I remember the TV stations would sign off the air overnight; we grew vegetables in our garden and would can the food so that we could preserve them for a long time; my mom made all our shirts with her old mechanical sewing machine. We lively humbly.
I learned at a very early age that if you desired to change your life, there was no free ride, hard work was the only way out. As soon as I became of age, 12 or 13 years old, I started to look for ways to make money. I did all sorts of jobs: working in stores, polishing cars, cutting lawns, delivering newspapers…I was ready to take anything legal to make a living.
Out of high school, I followed my father’s footsteps to General Motors for my career. It was in the spring of 1966. I started an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker and continued working there for 22 years. During those years, I got married and had a son. Life was getting easier. I was making good money.
But this is how quickly your life can change. One day at work, everybody was told to go over to the dock for a big meeting. The plant manager got up on the platform and made a quick announcement, “Effective today at noon, this plant is officially closed.” The news dropped like a bomb. Immediately people started losing jobs.
It eventually took one and a half years for the plant to fully close down. At the end of the 18 months, I was out of the door, too. I became officially unemployed.
It was like being independent and young all over again, trying to find something that would work. Only this time it wasn’t just me. I had a young kid to care for. I couldn’t stop. I had to keep moving.
There was an opportunity to work for another GM plant, but they were all in other cities. With no better options, I decided to work for a similar factory in Indianapolis, which was 230 miles away from home. That led to long commutes and very little time with family. But I had no choice.
It lasted for about two and a half years, until I took another opportunity in Cincinnati. It was a warehouse job, closer to home but with significantly less pay. The work was not at all rewarding. I hated it, feeling like a total failure. It was pure frustration to think that my life was backsliding instead of moving upper and better.
Four years later, I moved onto a new position working for GM again. Unfortunately, after another four years, they decided to close that plant too. At the age of 51, I became jobless again. And that was where I dropped a period. No more working for others.
I tried out different ventures over the next two years without much success. But life is interesting in that you don’t know where your next turning point is. One day, luck fell upon me as I found my passion at a Home and Garden Show. I met a couple at a booth offering leaded glass windows. I had always been interested in the artistry of leaded glass, so I asked them how they learned to make that, and it turned out the lady actually gave classes on it. I immediately signed up. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the class who was serious. The others were mostly housewives looking for a new hobby.
I took what I learned from the class and did my best to build my skills. Six months later, a new idea hit me: what if I make leaded glass doors for upscale kitchen cabinets, bars and so on? The thought excited me so much that I immediately put it into action. I made some cabinet doors, took photos of them, and went back to the same show the next year to exhibit. To my surprise, people got interested and started buying them.
Slowly but surely, I was able to grow it into a business. I have been running it since then. Although it is just a small, one-man business (and I don’t have the intention to grow it bigger), it is the most rewarding and satisfying journey of my life. Working for myself was the best choice I have ever made.
I am 70 years old now. I have been on this planet long enough to have lived with at least five generations, witnessed significant social changes, and experienced all the joys and sorrows that life has offered me. It has been a long, incredible journey, and I’m going to continue enjoying the ride.
— This is the story of Steve Barrett —
Steve was born in the late 1940’s and has learned great lessons from his parents and grandparents who had lived through the world wars and Great Depression. He loves sharing stories of the old times with his friends on a luncheon group that he started 11 years ago.
Steve now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his family. He has two sons, a granddaughter, and another grandchild coming on its way to this world. He runs his own business at Barrett Glass Works (http://barrettglassworks.com/) and is good at what he does. His father used to tell him, “Son, if you can’t sign your work and be proud of it, don’t do it.” Steve has carried that forward.
This is the 22nd story of Our Life Logs.
This story first touched our hearts on July 21, 2017.